by Johnathan Arnold
“I gave up every unnecessary pleasure and many more things which are considered necessary.” (paraphrase)
During this time, George Whitefield heard about the Methodists and came up to Oxford to join them, beginning a lifelong friendship with the Wesleys that had a tremendous impact on the later evangelical revival in America.
Wesley continued to study religion and serve as an itinerant preacher. In 1731, while visiting London, Wesley went to see William Law, who spurred Wesley’s interest in reading after the Christian mystics; he later denounced mysticism as “dangerous,” but Law’s impact on his life is noteworthy. In 1734, John traveled more than one thousand miles and learned to read on horseback — a habit which served him well on his long journeys. His strict diet and rigorous schedule caused serious health problems, but these were soon remedied with proper care and exercise.
“The inward witness, son, the inward witness; this is the proof, the strongest proof, of Christianity.”
Meeting the Moravians: Mission to Georgia (1735-1738)
In October 1735, John and Charles sailed for Georgia as missionaries for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. John Wesley’s main desire was to work out his own salvation and preach to the Native Americans. Two other Methodists joined them, and the four met in the Wesleys’ cabin to read and pray during the voyage. Twenty-six Moravians were onboard, so John began to learn their language, German, in order to converse with them. The four Methodists attended the Moravian services each evening.
The Moravians had a deep impact on Wesley. When the vessel nearly sank during a severe storm, the Moravians sang calmly while the eighty English passengers trembled and cried out in fear. Even the Moravian women and children were unafraid to die. Wesley, ashamed, asked himself, “How is it thou hast no faith?” and scurried about, pointing out the difference.
Wesley was very religious, but he did not have saving faith or the peace and assurance that comes with being a child of God.
In March, he preached his first sermon at Savanah. Despite the 518 residents and nearly 200 others under his pastoral care, his true desire was to preach to the Native Americans, and his opportunities to work with them were limited. Wesley’s influence grew rapidly. He left for a short time to minister in the town of Frederica, but soon returned to Savannah and began teaching and catechizing the children.
While in Georgia, Wesley nearly married a woman named Sophia Hopkey but was convinced that it was not God’s will. He soon realized that God had spared him a great ordeal. Sophia married another and, soon after, publicly disrespected him, causing a debacle in the town. Wesley saw it as a case for church discipline and excluded her from communion. Sophia’s uncle, the chief magistrate, rose to her defense, raising unjustified accusations against Wesley and issuing a warrant for his arrest. Wesley, feeling disillusioned about his treatment, and already disappointed that he was unable to preach to the Native Americans, chose to return to England against the orders of the court. The colony’s trustees later cleared Wesley of all charges and removed Sophia’s uncle from his position as magistrate.
The return voyage was a time of deep soul-searching. After his interactions with the Moravians, Wesley was plagued by fear and doubt, and was now convinced of his unbelief. He longed for true faith and recorded those famous words, “I went to America to convert the Indians, but oh! who shall convert me?”
“I went to America to convert the Indians, but oh! who shall convert me?”
Back in England: Convinced by Peter Boehler (1738)
In a letter to Zinzendorf, Boehler wrote: “I traveled with the two brothers, John and Charles Wesley, from London to Oxford. The elder, John, is a good natured man; he knew he did not properly believe on the Savior, and was willing to be taught. His brother, with whom you often conversed a year ago, is at present very much distressed in his mind, but does not know how he shall begin to be acquainted with the Savior. Our mode of believing in the Savior is so easy to Englishmen that they cannot reconcile themselves to it; if it were a little more artful, they would much sooner find their way into it.”
“Our mode of believing in the Savior is so easy to Englishmen that they cannot reconcile themselves to it.”
Wesley’s beliefs underwent a radical transformation during this time. He was convinced, after examining the New Testament, that Boehler’s teachings were correct: salvation is instantaneous, not gradual; happiness and holiness are the fruits of faith; and one must not be confined to liturgy. His brother Charles was angry on the first account and argued that salvation was instead gradual; Charles wrote, “His obstinacy in favoring the contrary opinion drove me at last out of the room.”
The Wesleys learned that one does not grow into salvation, but is saved instantaneously when one trusts in Christ.
The Aldersgate Experience: Coming to Faith (May 24, 1738)
John was heavy-hearted until the following Wednesday, May 24, 1738. His journal entry for that day records his conversion: “In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
“I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation.”
“Oh, how shall I the goodness tell,
Father, which Thou to me hast showed
That I, a child of wrath and hell,
I should be called a child of God,
Should know, should feel, my sins forgiven,
Blest with this antepast [foretaste] of heaven!”
Green, Richard. “John Wesley – Evangelist.” Wesley Center Online.
Hammond, Geordan. “John Wesley in America: Restoring Primitive Christianity” (Oxford University Press, 2014).
“John Wesley the Methodist: A Plain Account of His Life and Work.” Wesley Center Online.
“John Wesley: Methodical pietist.” Christianity Today.
Telford, John. “The Life of John Wesley.” Wesley Center Online.
Wesley, John. “The Journals of John Wesley.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
Wesley, Charles. “Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library.